4

What would a perfect book about Buddhism look like?

Between translations of ancient texts... most of which are deep but rather obscure... and modern books by Theravada, Zen, and Vajrayana teachers... and even the books that try to distill Buddhist principles for non-Buddhist audience... -- what would you like to see in a perfect book?

  • Would it focus on accurately explaining and defining Buddhist concepts and technical terminology, step by step, form basic to advanced?
  • Would it stay away from the technical jargon and speak about our everyday problems and how we can better overcome them?
  • Would it re-tell the Buddha's personal story in a way that would illuminate the Teaching?
  • Would it take one topic (e.g. Anatta) and explore it in depth from all sides?
  • Would it focus on practice more than on theory? On daily life practice? Or on meditation?
  • Which particulars topics would you like to see in the book's Table of Contents.

What is missing in the Buddhist books you have read, and what would you like to see improved in your ideal book?

  • 1
    what is the closest book to perfection in your opinion? – user13064 Jun 16 '18 at 18:29
  • To me it's probably ch. 9-14 of "The Buddha's Way: A Socio-Historical Approach" by Nalin Swaris. – Andrei Volkov Jun 30 '18 at 3:07
3

I think there is no perfect formula for a book. Different approaches apply to different target audiences for different objectives.

Even some of Ajahn Brahm's non-technical books of humor and anecdotes (like "Don't Worry, Be Grumpy") are useful to certain types of audience who need to have their negative emotions soothed, while being treated to subliminal doses of the Dhamma.

I personally would like to see a book that can reach out to Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike, help them, and invite them to look at Buddhist teachings more deeply.

Non-Buddhists usually know about Buddhism's first noble truth about suffering. They also tend to be aware about the focus on meditation as a technique to reach enlightenment. Recent advancements in mental healthcare have taken at least a part of Buddhist mindfulness for treating depression, anxiety and coping with chronic pain. This has made Buddhism more popular.

However unfortunately, many non-Buddhists still think it's a depressing religion that shuns the material world and relationships, and exhorts people to become monks who meditate all day to become stoic and unemotional.

On the other hand, Buddhists who are not well-aware of the Dhamma, tend to focus on attending ten-day meditation courses and trying out meditation techniques without understanding what they are ultimately meant for. Furthermore, without improving their virtues (sila) and personal habits, meditation may not be useful as the five hindrances would continually beset them.

From my study of the suttas, I feel that there is a huge part of the Dhamma that can benefit both groups. This would be what I call "wholesome living and skillful thinking" or an application of Buddhism into psychology for laypeople.

Such a book would explain mindfulness, heedfulness, virtues (sila), dealing with addiction, anger management etc. For e.g. this question (and this follow-up question) on Buddhism.SE asked about how to deal with the arising of contempt towards other people. A book on wholesome living and skillful thinking would relate contempt to aversion and delusion, and may suggest the reader to overcome contempt with compassion through understanding the background and underlying situations behind the behavior of other people.

I would also like to see this book explaining concepts of skillful thinking using simple non-technical terms with anecdotes and practical examples. However, it should also include copious references from the suttas to support its arguments, as that would invite both Buddhists and non-Buddhists to look into the suttas more deeply, as a source of inspiration for daily living.

Managing relationships, finances, career etc. should also be covered in this book.

Overall, this book should give readers the impression that Buddhism guides Buddhists, non-Buddhists, laypeople and monks alike towards cultivating short term, medium term and long term happiness on the journey towards the complete cessation of suffering, through wholesome living and skillful thinking. The book should also portray the Buddha as a pragmatic master psychologist, through his own words from the suttas.

It may also be useful if the book focuses only on a few core techniques like letting go (by not clinging onto incoming stimuli), reframing (for example, meditating on unattractiveness to overcome lust), compassion (i.e. understanding the reason for, and trying to reduce, the suffering of others) and so on.

2

For me I would like to see practical book that makes Westerners less afraid of Buddhism, and more attractive to the people.

In my opinion perfect book about Buddhism would clear the air in regards to confusion. I don't think that there is single more misunderstood teaching than that of Buddha, and it is also taught wrongly in so many places.

For example, I hear that people are afraid of concept of non-Self as if they were to become mindless, emotionless robots. That arises due to Western and Eastern incompatibilities in what actually concept of Self refers to.

I hear that people think Buddhism is to cut all thoughts and somehow become essentially lobotomised by one's own will. Therefore, people are anxious about losing will to live and even fulfil daily tasks which is, of course, nonsense.

I hear that people are absolutely panicked about non-duality (and emptiness in general) that they essentially take it for nihilistic approach, i.e. there isn't good or bad at all, and that frightens people, as humans like control and order in form of moral values or maybe ethics.

I hear that people think Buddhism is to refrain from all life pleasures, and wealth, but that too is confusion of two different concepts of desire, namely sankalpa and thrisna. It should be communicated better that wealth does not harm those seeking nirvana, but the greedy.

I see complete confusion about the concepts of reincarnation. With stressing on how differently Tibetans approach it.

I believe that mindfulness is taught completely wrongly and in potentially harmful way; people advise subjects to be mindful and aware all the time, but without any ethics or purpose, and this might even be dangerous/counterproductive for clueless person seeking for self-help.

Somehow all the above issues in every beginner's or explanatory book are mentioned briefly and typically in the very end of the chapter's sentence. When one looks for correct answer, the topics are not covered in depth, or not covered in at all to the extent that it clears confusion.

2

I think books written by Bhikku Bodhi, Thich Nhat Hanh, Ajahn Brahm, Stephen Bachelor, Pema Chodron, Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo...all explore different aspects in different ways.

The entire body of literature as well as scope of any kind of book on Buddhism is vast.

I mean I just have a book on psychology and Yogacara atm with me. So the possibilities are many.

To begin with you have to define the audience, whether novices or intermediate or experts.

Then you have to define the scope, as in to what level the book will explore. Will it add aspects from modern psychology and neuroscience. Will it be a summary of pali canon or an entire research on itself?

You need to consider the authenticity of references.

The degree of unverifiable ideas like Heaven and hell realms etc that you want to put in.

  • +1 for defining the audience first. I'm a novice, so my "perfect" book would be something completely different than someone who has been practicing for decades. Find your audience. Then you could ask the question, "If you're a novice buddhist, what type of book and what content would benefit you most." – LifeLongLearner Jun 16 '18 at 17:02
2

Some disorderly thought...


Theoretically you should (e.g. technical writers and/or publishers do) define the audience (and perhaps implicitly) the purpose of the book -- for example:

  • Purpose: explain elementary French vocabulary
  • Audience: adult anglophone novice

This will inform the title, subtitle, back cover, and suggest ideas for the table of contents.

I guess that's true for any book with top-down design, commissioned for a purpose. Maybe there are some books built bottom-up: "I have ideas and/or fragments (e.g. existing dhamma talks), lets publish them as a loose anthology or collection of parts."


I infer from a comment that your purpose is to ...

explain the underlying principle, the formula behind Buddhism - and how all of Buddhism and its relevancy in real life comes from the implications of the formula

... however not necessarily to ...

cover some aspects of Buddhism, or even summarize the main ideas and phases of historical development.

If you don't "cover some aspects of Buddhism", nor even some "main ideas" or "phases of historical development", maybe that's good and bad from a marketing perspective:

  • Attractive to an audience/public who are predisposed to dislike or feel ambivalent about Buddhism
  • Unattractive to an audience/public who are predisposed to like or feel attached to Buddhism
  • More or less attractive to people who know Buddhism, depending on how well you connect the dots without overly belabouring what they know already -- to satisfy their prior need/interest in Buddhism, or to build on (reinforce and benefit from) their prior knowledge and practice of Buddhism

I guess a part of me is "worried" (not because I think you're incompetent but only because this is the closest or only word-association that I have on this subject) that your ...

"the underlying principle, the formula behind Buddhism - and how all of Buddhism and its relevancy in real life comes from the implications of the formula"

... reminds of the scene where "Phaedrus" begins to comes apart in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance ...

The quality that can be defined is not the Absolute Quality (and so on)

Phædrus read on through line after line, verse after verse of this, watched them match, fit, slip into place. Exactly. This was what he meant. This was what he’d been saying all along, only poorly, mechanistically. There was nothing vague or inexact about this book. It was as precise and definite as it could be. It was what he had been saying, only in a different language with different roots and origins. He was from another valley seeing what was in this valley, not now as a story told by strangers but as a part of the valley he was from. He was seeing it all.

He had broken the code.

He read on. Line after line. Page after page. Not a discrepancy. What he had been talking about all the time as Quality was here the Tao, the great central generating force of all religions, Oriental and Occidental, past and present, all knowledge, everything.

Then his mind’s eye looked up and caught his own image and realized where he was and what he was seeing and—I don’t know what really happened—but now the slippage that Phædrus had felt earlier, the internal parting of his mind, suddenly gathered momentum, as do the rocks at the top of a mountain. Before he could stop it, the sudden accumulated mass of awareness began to grow and grow into in avalanche of thought and awareness out of control; with each additional growth of the downward tearing mass loosening hundreds of times its volume, and then that mass uprooting hundreds of times its volume more, and then hundreds of times that; on and on, wider and broader, until there was nothing left to stand. No more anything.

It all gave way from under him.

He gets around to writing a good book about it afterwards, and yet (remark about sanity).

I don't know what "groundless ground" is at all, but your statements about reification sound more flexible (and grounded, if I can say that) than the "monism" described above, so I trust that's well.

ileostomy warned it might be difficult to communicate though (an old problem, first stated by Mara!). But you seem good at communicating here. But I don't know that a "scribe" could replace you.


Would it focus on accurately explaining and defining Buddhist concepts and technical terminology, step by step, form basic to advanced?

That would be nice. I guess I learned Maths that way, more or less. IIRC each lesson was of the form:

  • What: some new technique or topic or problem
  • Why: and when that new "what" is useful
  • How: the teacher's showing for example how to apply the what
  • Q+A: any questions?
  • Practice: a sample problem, assigned by the teacher, for all students to solve in class using the new technique (while the teacher stopped talking, wandered around looking over students' shoulders, maybe quietly assisting people one on one)
  • Homework: more practice

... (exactly as mentioned in abernard's answer).

Has that (book) been done already? There are already teachers, aren't there, and (I gather) some curriculums/curricula too (e.g. here)?

Would it stay away from the technical jargon and speak about our everyday problems and how we can better overcome them?

That would appeal to some.

I think I only read "technical jargon" when I read about Buddhism (if it's polite to characterise the suttas as technical jargon), so it comes out in my speech if I try to describe Buddhist theory: and my mum doesn't like that (especially "foreign words").

Would it re-tell the Buddha's personal story in a way that would illuminate the Teaching?

I wouldn't know how to do that.

I suspect it might appeal to Buddhists. "The Life of the Buddha" is what passes for a Buddhist Bible, IMO -- analogous to the Gospels, perhaps the first thing anyone (including children) would read or be told about Buddhism.

Would it take one topic (e.g. Anatta) and explore it in depth from all sides

That would do -- especially to the extent that everything is connected to everything else, or fractal, "in depth and from all sides" might mean you cover anything and everything.

Doing so helps to solve the problem of "how do I structure this book?", i.e. that decision gives the book form (in a non-Buddhist "form is liberating" kind of sense).

It risks being less appealing on the face of it -- e.g., "(sarcastically) Oh good: only the 180th description of anatta I've been given!"

It might also put you (or me) into a " Buddhist concepts and technical terminology" mode, rather than e.g. "everyday practical" or e.g. "suitable even for children".

Would it focus on practice more than on theory? On daily life practice? Or on meditation?

Yes I hope so. :-)

Which particulars topics would you like to see in the book's Table of Contents.

  • May be too early to say: i.e. depends on (or follows from) the "form" (perhaps a.k.a. architecture or design pattern) which you haven't chosen yet.

  • One of the first question I asked on this site was about rebirth, see e.g. this comment. Not that I was inclined to reject Buddhism in its entirety, but there are some points of doctrine that might it seem difficult for some people to accept it in its entirety -- hence "secular" Buddhists, or "lay sanghas", or married priests ... and so on, variations.

    Anyway, one of my personal preconceived biases was that I'm willing to tolerate, try to understand or the learn the view that "this is enlightened" -- the doctrine that "Only this is true; anything else is wrong" may be less easy to approve.

    Other answers mention various difficulties or preconceptions to overcome, e.g.:

    it's a depressing religion that shuns the material world and relationships, and exhorts people to become monks who meditate all day to become stoic and unemotional.

    ... and:

    The degree of unverifiable ideas like Heaven and hell realms etc that you want to put in.

    ... and:

    people are afraid of concept of non-Self as if they were to become mindless, emotionless robots

    Theoretically that's an idea for a entire book: Not Buddhism

  • Further to my mistrust of "Only this is true; anything else is wrong" I am kind of interested in a survey of the whole of Buddhism. If someone writes "This is Buddhism" then I'm thinking "Yes but there's more to it than that".

    That's a reason for my being grateful for being given contact with the suttas: at least they're something, more than just one modern author's opinion.

    And a book like In the Buddha's Words is clear about what it (the book) is ... and it isn't saying "anything else is wrong", but it is saying "this is what this is".

    Still, having surveyed or been introduced to the suttas, I find it daunting to try to introduce myself to Mahayana literature. Some of it is a very different style. And I don't know what's important or why, if anything. So a book like (maybe there is such a book already, I don't know):

    • Purpose: introduce/survey Mahayana literature/doctrine
    • Audience: practitioners of the foundational vehicle, familiar with the Pali canon
  • On the topic of surveying exacting literature, there's a lot of it, which takes a lot of paper in a printed book.

    Will the book be print-only, online-only, or a mixture?

    Can you afford to use hyperlinks as references, rather than quoting big blocks? Will you even reference anything (you wanted to avoid being obliged to supply references on this site, I don't know whether you'll do the same in a book of yours)?

    An online book is a whole different ballgame, look at SuttaCentral as an example: online; somewhat collaborative (I guess Ven. Sujato is a chief author of the sutta translations, with other people who are writing tools etc.). It's interactive -- because there are multiple authors, and some people backing it financially, they have presumably talked and have some shared vision -- and because of the discourse discussion platform which opens it to readers and anyone else. Its being interactive in that way might make it "agile" too (to the extent that there's continuous feedback or input from the "customers").

    You might perhaps use this platform (Buddhism.SE) somehow:

    • Reuse your own content (without attribution)
    • Quote, reference, or alter other people's posts (with attribution)
    • Even perhaps "support" your book (invite people to ask questions) here -- Can I support my product on this site? -- or maybe not, I don't know, I'm not recommending that you do, only that something might be possible ... perhaps you'd prefer to do that privately by email
  • ruben2020's answer mentioned:

    Managing relationships, finances, career etc. should also be covered in this book

    ... but I'm not sure about making it too practical -- that's the only function/form of this book (albeit based only on the Pali canon), and maybe there are other "Buddhism applied to wordly/practical life" books. The first noble truth includes illness and death too, fwiw.

    Addiction could be a big topic (a whole book) -- many forms of addiction (alcohol and other substances, social media and other diversions and entertainments, various forms of sensuality, social kicks ranging from self-righteous outrage through to having someone else tell you what to do -- and addiction affects the addict and the people around them (e.g. their family), maybe they could both use some advice (and maybe or maybe not the same advice)

  • Also I see ruben2020 mentioned:

    cultivating short term, medium term and long term happiness

    ... and hyperlinked it as if that's a theme. I guess everyone picks different themes, to especially appeal to or resonate with them.

    I for example like "Both formerly and now, it is only stress that I describe, and the cessation of stress", but that (starting from stress, a desire for cessation) doesn't appeal to my mum at all.

    Perhaps you have a different motto or summary that has been helping you: "Good in the beginning", or the concept of "sat-dhamma", or I don't know -- meditations -- something you might have a lot to say about, if it were up to you and unconstrained by this Q+A format.

2

Would it focus on accurately explaining and defining Buddhist concepts and technical terminology, step by step, form basic to advanced?

It really depends on the goal of the book, doesn't it? What's the purpose of the book? Is it the result of a research project/study? (Bhikkhu Anālayo - Perspectives on Satipatthāna comes to mind. Awesome read, btw.) Is it a how-go-guide for beginners? Define the purpose of the book, the readers and the rest will follow, imho.

Would it stay away from the technical jargon and speak about our everyday problems and how we can better overcome them?

For the sake of clarity I would use technical jargon. There are too many wrong translations flying around freely already. Also, by using the technical terms a reader is able to give the book place amidst other books, teachings. A book never appears in a vacuum. It should connect to others.

Would it re-tell the Buddha's personal story in a way that would illuminate the Teaching?

Only if it serves the purpose. I don't think it would be useful, there is no shortage of books on Buddha's personal story.

Would it take one topic (e.g. Anatta) and explore it in depth from
all sides? Would it focus on practice more than on theory? On daily
life practice? Or on meditation?

This depends pretty much on how the mind works, I think. For instance, most people I know can't bear reading the Compendium of the Abhidhamma (by Bhikkhu Bodhi). They don't understand it. For me it works the other way around. I don't understand the 'easy to read' books (Kornfield fi), but do understand things the way the Compendium explains it. Another book that made things for me very clear is this one: http://www.aimwell.org/anattalakkhana.html Meaning that my mind clearly can work easier with books that deal in depth with whatever subject.

I also find combinations of theory and practice more useful. It seems more complete. Like for instance take the subject of death. You could write a lot about this. From the viewpoint of the sutta, the abhidhamma, daily life in current/western society, how to deal as Buddhist in said society with death. Preparing for it, and so on.

So, basically books that deal with a subject in depth from different angels speak volumes to me. ;)

But again... the mind differs.

Which particulars topics would you like to see in the book's Table of Contents.

This depends on the purpose of the book, the goal, the readers the book aims at. What's always helpful is a translation part (Pali-English, vv.), subject index next to regular index, abbreviations, clarification on the book itself (purpose, place in the body of literature and so on). Depending on the content: tables, graphs.

1

A book that is simple to understand and composed of accurate dhamma. Simple accurate explanation about a topic more on meditation basis rather than theory.

1

Would it focus on accurately explaining and defining Buddhist concepts and technical terminology, step by step, form basic to advanced?

It is hard to deal with all the audiences at the same time. "Write for your audience" is a cliche, but applies here.

Would it stay away from the technical jargon and speak about our everyday problems and how we can better overcome them?

Some technical jargon helps. Imagine if you used a common English word for Dharma, it would actually be confusing. E.g. in SGI, they use Mystic Law for Saddharma (True Dharma) and most confusing, "World Peace" for Kosen-Rufu (the state when everyone is Buddhist). It took me years to notice that was a quirky translation for technical jargon.

Would it re-tell the Buddha's personal story in a way that would illuminate the Teaching?

Which one? There are so many versions of his life now. I think people tend to add the one that best supports the sort of Buddhism they are expounding about. E.g. the Cosmic Buddha, the mortal, somewhat depressed mayor's son who didn't want to be a family man, the working monk who mostly meditated, the erudite philosopher.

Would it take one topic (e.g. Anatta) and explore it in depth from all sides?

Would it focus on practice more than on theory? On daily life practice? Or on meditation?

I personally love this sort of genre- ... meditation manual was influential for me, I like the sections on practices. I think Buddhism is often more practice based than competing religions (Pure Land not withstanding). Buddhism is a thing you do, not something you only believe & maybe have no other visible indications of your religion. I think I'll have succeeded at Buddhism when someone can observe me being Buddhist.

Which particulars topics would you like to see in the book's Table of Contents.

I generally follow the traditional split of morality, concentration & wisdom (3 categories of 8 fold path), except read as recommend rules to live by, mediation & other practices & philosophy- specifically asking questions and answering them by analytical debate & argumentation with oneself or others.

Ethics. What are the rules that describe good behavior & bad behavior. I like the Brahma Net Sutra's rule set, which for me is the right balance in between the extremes watered down bullshit rules (do good! don't do evil!) and nit picky decorum (don't preach the dharma to someone holding an umbrella!)

Meditation & Practices in general. The most Buddhist sort of practices have some sort of meditative angle. Service manuals have some of this, e.g. texts suitable for reciting.

Philosophy. Errors I see here in books-- assuming that everyone is too dumb to understand philosophy & not covering it at all-- Too many books want to start acting like everything is ineffable without even trying to define anything. Words like "nondual" "abide" "cognition/perception" all thrown around without definition, nor explanation about isn't dual or why we'd care.

Something I never see, which I wish was common was something about debate, argumentation & the like, ie. the tools and methodology of Philosophy (aka wisdom). The ancient Buddhist universities had formal logic, debate with rules of debate, etc, etc.

Ethics and meditative practices demand visible action from an adherent. I think there is an audience of people that would like to do it if they knew how. Philosophy is something invisible from the outside, but takes work, a life time of work & I think more people would do it if they had the tools.

On the otherhand, with faith and other-power one can dispense all of that! So it depends on what sort of Buddhism you want to write about.

I really like the format of this book in Russian- bases of Buddhism. Of course that one assumes the reader has a Datsan nearby, I wasn't sure how I could celebrate a Hural on my own. Again, it comes back to knowing your audience.

1

Whatever format a book on Buddhism may have, we all would like whatever is said to be true. But stating a psychological truth while taking into account a well-educated reader is not easy. It is not possible to make a single (but non-trivial) psychological statement about the mind, about meditation, or about human behaviour that would, for the well-educated reader, not be open to a wide range of interpretations. This is due to the historical fact that at least several philosophers and psychologists will have made similar (or opposite) statements from a particular frame of reference and the meaning of that statement would depend upon which frame of reference was being engaged. Indeed, the reality is that, if you want to say something important to person who has an academic background in psychology or philosophy, then you must provide your frame of reference or basic assumptions. These basic assumptions can be provided in an appendix or in footnotes, but, if you do not make them, then your book will be viewed as written by someone who lacks the education or sophistication to articulate or have those basic assumptions.

It also happens to be the case (in my view) that the Buddha and others have had said some very important things about the mind that are not easily understood or articulated by a Buddhist monk, scholar, or practitioner. This is partly due to the fact that traditional Buddhist texts state a lot of extraordinary facts without explaining them. The Pali language, for example, is a closed system of definitions that are often simplistic or circular. My meditation teacher, a Theravadin monk, told me that the only way to understand the Theravadin Abhidharma was to meditate on it.

The bottom line is that, unless you merely want to preach to the converted, writing an important book on Buddhism is very challenging indeed. (In particular, I am very dissatisfied with what I have written so far. I hope to do better before I die. I may not.)

1

My perfect buddhist book would be precise and concise, like a manual.

It would be a book designed for complete beginners living in the western society, something I could easely share with my friends and relative. As an introduction, it would explain what is Buddhism, what it is not, and what are its potential benefits for an individual living in the western society.

Something important which have been missing from a lot of books I read: It would acknowledge the different traditions of buddhism, giving a brief historical context for each, and state which one will serve as fondation for the book.

Then, each buddhist concept would be explained in a gradual way, starting from the most obvious and leading to more subtle things.

Because there isn't enough space to cover it all in great details, each concept would be presented in a very concise manner, and would be referenced at the end of the book, with directions to other ressources to expand on the topic.

So, to be more precise, for each concept, It would have an explanation of What it is, Why it is usefull, When it is usefull (what stage in the practice should one worry about it) and most importantly How one should incorporate it in his daily practice.

Too often, concepts explained in books look pretty and wise, but I can't help but think "allright I think i can understand what you mean by this thing you call non self (for instance) but what the hell am I supposed to do with this ?".

To illustrate, and make the book more readable, it would present stories about how this particular concept help the author or any other person, from the western world / point of view. No anectode featuring the Buddha or his disciples, for clarity's sake. They just don't talk as much to me as stories taking place in the modern world.

Judging from the answers you post here, you are very talented at explaining difficult concepts clearly and concisely. Such a book would make a very valuable addition to what has already been written, in my opinion.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.